(BELLEFONTE, Pa.) — Accused former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky may take the stand in his own defense to counter charges that he sexually abused 10 boys over a 15 year period, his lawyer hinted during his opening statement today.
Defense attorney Joseph Amendola said that Sandusky, 68, would tell the jury about how his own experiences growing up explained some of his alleged behavior.
“It was routine for people to get in the showers in Jerry’s culture. He’s going to tell you later, it was routine for individuals to take showers together,” Amendola said.
Sandusky’s defense team also filed a motion to allow evidence that he has histrionic personality disorder, a condition that would explain some of his behavior as well as letters he wrote to his alleged victims. The disorder, his lawyer claimed in a court document, will show that his actions were not attempts to “groom” young boys for sexual seduction, as the prosecution has claimed.
The statements came at the beginning of what is expected to be a three-week trial of the former coach, who is charged with 52 counts of sexual abuse. Prosecutor Joseph McGettigan earlier promised that eight of Sandusky’s accusers would take the stand to recall graphic details of the alleged abuse.
“I’m going to ask you to forgive me, because I’m going to ask (the alleged victims) to back years to when they were children, and I’m going to press them for those details,” McGettigan said. “I’ve asked them to forgive me for the graphic answers. But I have to ask and they have to answer to go back in time. ”
Amendola, who seemed to admit to the jury that the prosecution had a strong case, saying “the Commonwealth has overwhelming evidence” and “there are so many accusers.” He told the jury of seven women and five men that he would try and discredit the alleged victims and other witnesses in a bid to defend Sandusky.
“It is rare, it is absolutely totally unusual for an alleged victim to have an attorney beside them, representing them, and yet six and possibly more we have evidence to show that one of them had an attorney before they ever talked to attorney general in this case,” Amendola said.
“Evidence going to show that six of eight young men have civil litigation,” the lawyer said. He later added, “These young men have a financial interest.”
Sandusky, dressed in a gray suit jacket and khaki pants, sat hunched over at the defense table, flanked by his two defense attorneys and a legal assistant. The arrest of the former defensive coordinator last December sent shockwaves through the university, ending the careers of head coach Joe Paterno and university president Graham Spanier, and resulting in the arrest of two other school officials.
McGettigan began the trial by projecting the pictures of eight young boys whom Sandusky allegedly molested onto a screen in front of the courtroom. He said the alleged victims would testify, and the prosecution would provide supporting documents, photographs, and evidence to support their claims. They would also describe the investigation into Sandusky that led to the 52 counts charged against him.
Among the first expected to testify, possibly as early as today, is Victim 4. Sources told ABC News ahead of the trial that the Victim 4’s testimony will include love letters that Sandusky allegedly wrote him.
One victim is expected to testify about Sandusky’s wife, Dottie Sandusky, who has stood by her husband’s proclaimed innocence. The boy was allegedly coerced into performing oral sex on Sandusky while on a trip with him, his wife, and the football team. The act was interrupted when Dottie Sandusky walked into the hotel room, according to McGettigan.
The victim “just wanted a father figure,” McGettigan said. “But the defendant would spoon with him, put his hand down his pants, touch his genitals.”
A white tent was erected at the court’s side entrance where the witnesses are expected to arrive in order to protect them from the media and the public. Still, the alleged victims’ identities will be made public for the first time when they take the stand to testify and their names are read into the public record.
ABC News does not report the names of alleged victims of sex crimes.
McGettigan also promised during opening statements to use Sandusky’s own media interviews against him in court, noting that the jury would hear Sandusky’s responses on NBC and in the New York Times to questions about his alleged crimes, prompting Amendola to confer with his paralegal.
The investigation began in 2008 when a high school student in Centre County, Pa., told his mother and school administrators that Sandusky had molested him, launching a widespread but secretive effort to interview dozens of boys Sandusky mentored through his charity, The Second Mile, as well as Penn State officials who may have seen or heard about inappropriate actions.
Charges of child sex abuse were brought against Sandusky on Nov. 4, 2011, igniting a firestorm of scandal around the prestigious football program that led to the dismissal of the university’s president and Paterno, and criminal charges against two school officials.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Sarah Sanders Petersen, Deseret News